Winning isn’t easy, but it sure is fun.
On a night when the UCSB men’s basketball team was not on top of its game, the players managed to pull together in the final 1:23, when the game was tied 65-65, and squeezed by a relentless Idaho, 69-67, Thursday night in the Thunderdome.
Freshman forward Branduinn Fullove took the game into his own hands at crunch time by coming out of nowhere to tip-in freshman guard Nick Jones’ miss for a 67-65 lead, and subsequently drilling the game-winning bucket with 1.4 seconds on the clock.
Fullove punched in a career-high 23 points against the Vandals (4-17, 1-9) and had game-high figures of seven boards and four assists.
“I noticed Branduinn Fullove stepped up for us tonight,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Branduinn was very good for us in both halves.”
Fullove worked Idaho defenders all night long, abusing Vandal senior captain Adam Miller for the game-winner, and basically sliced and diced his way for any shot he wanted. The forward scored the first 10 points for the Gauchos, finishing the half with 12.
Despite winning its fourth straight game, Santa Barbara lacked cohesiveness in the opening half, fumbling the ball away on various occasions for 12 first-half turnovers and only six assists, and could not develop any post-threat.
“It was the worst half of basketball in terms of taking care of the ball,” Williams said.
Idaho also played with great vigor, constantly reacting a split second faster to the ball than UCSB and throwing out ferocious double-teams and pressure defense that rattled freshman point guard Jacoby Atako especially.
“I don’t think we were prepared tonight to get the fire going,” Williams said. “We don’t seem to understand that there’s an eyelash difference of the teams in this conference. There’s not much difference between physical ability and how they play the game between the top team and the bottom team. We never dug in and played with toughness.”
Though UCSB knew Idaho would be playing its hardest basketball of the season, since the Vandals’ only Big West win came against Santa Barbara on Jan. 20, 68-67, this gave Idaho confidence coming into the T-dome .
“We knew they were going to come out with intense play,” sophomore forward Mark Hull said. “They played with nothing to lose, and we took it too easy. They surprised us in the first half.”
During the second half, Santa Barbara started to extend its 33-29 half-time lead into as much as 10 points, while the current Big West Player of the Week, junior forward Mike Vukovich, scored 11 points in 16 minutes of play in the second half after going scoreless in the first. A Fullove jumper at 14:06 made the score 48-38.
The Vandals then hovered between six and nine point deficits in the second half, before Miller drained two treys in a row to cut the lead 64-61 with 4:07 on the clock. Yet unsung Vandal hero Brett Wise, a freshman forward, scored four of his seven points to knot the game at 65-65 with 41 seconds on the clock and to make Williams’ stomach start doing summersaults again.
Fullove then put his hot hand to work, finishing the game the way he started. The game-winning shot was a “fist-out pop-out,” according to Williams. Fullove then backed Miller into the key, before flipping his shot into the net to finish Idaho and complete his night with a flourish.
“Tonight my shot was on,” Fullove said. “Extra shooting in practice paid off. It was nice to hit that shot. Tonight was my night. … [The last shot] felt like slow motion, and once it goes in, I hear everyone cheering.”
Cal Poly will be welcomed into the T-dome this Saturday at 7 p.m., and the Gauchos hope to keep their four-game winning streak alive.
“[Cal Poly is] very dangerous, and they’re very explosive offensively,” Williams said. “They’re going to come in gunning for us.”